Clearing Away

by Wanderer and Christopher Hughes and Raven Blackmane

*It is time, Raven.*

Raven hin'Elric turned at the mental 'voice' inside her head and found herself before a large and grizzled bear. "Time, Christopher?"

*Aye*, returned the scholar through the spell which served in lieu of voice ... and would continue to do so until he found some means of restoring his ability to shift shape like the other inhabitants of Metamor. *Wand'rer is occupied with Lurene, for now, and ye know we cannot leave this go for much longer.*

Raven sighed. "I do know. Yet, it feels so ... " She groped for a word, and finally found it. " ... wrong. To enter his quarters without leave... "

The bear grunted. *We have leave, Raven. 'Tis not his, but 'twill serve for now.*

The Lightbringer blinked in surprise. "Thomas has agreed to this, then?"

*Aye*, came the answer again. *I had the news of Thalberg this morning. Shall we begin?*

Raven nodded silently, and followed the large ursine to the rooms of the Court Bard. She noted, in passing, that Kyia had been kind enough to lengthen the route somewhat for her. *Many thanks, Lady Kyia*, she prayed shortly, keeping her thoughts from Christopher for politeness. In her mind, she could almost see a sad smile in return.

*Well?*, thought Christopher, now standing before the door. *I think ye should handle the door, lady ... my paws are not suited to such things now.*

Raven nodded, her mind on the task before her. With a gentle grasp, she took hold of the latch and opened the door.

*What a mess*, grumbled Christopher. *I knew that fool bard had little head for aught but music, but ye'd think he could clean his own rooms.*

Raven smiled in sad agreement. The room, though not large by any means, was extensive enough to befit a member of Court ... in itself, it was large enough to house two of Christopher. And yet, she could see that any entry to the room itself was a perilous journey in the making.

Scattered about the floor were a mixture of old and well-worn clothes, now heavy with dust from long neglect. Mixed with these were pieces of papyrus, scratched and blotted with the familiar scrawl of Wanderer's writing. "I make fine letters", he'd told her once. "The only fault is, no two are yet the same."

A discarded lute leaned against the table at the far wall ... a wall, she noted, without windows.

"No windows?"

*Aye*, replied the scholar. *He always said that writing was best done when there is nothing else to look at and little else to do.* Hesnorted, rustling several sheets of crumpled papyrus. *And in this wrack of a room, I see he believed it. How'd the rogue walk in here!?*

"With great care", Raven rsponded, beginning to pick her way through the rubble of the bard's discards. "Perhaps I'd best do the first of the work, while you remain without."

*Agreed. I'll not trust my paws to that morass ... or should I call it a midden?*

"'Tis not *so* bad", she smirked, "though I think he should soon have had a visit from the rats ... and I speak not of Matthias' friends, either."

*Well, then*, Christopher sighed, hunkering down for a long wait outside the detritus of the floor, *let us begin. What is the first?*

"I believe we may safely discard the greater number of papers", Raven said after a moment's sorting. "Most are messages to himself, long out of date ... I believe this one gives him directions to the Deaf Mule."

*That old!?*

"And older", she replied to the amazed bear. "I do not believe he has ever thrown away a paper in his life. Ah", she said as she came to a larger scrap. "This is different".

*What is't?*, asked Christopher, his ears perking atop his heavy head.

"A commission. It seems he had undertaken to write a hymn to Eli."

The bear chuckled quietly. *I thought him a traditionalist, not a Ph- ... a member of the Ecclesia.*

"He was to be paid, Christopher", she reminded him humorously as she ignored the near-slip. "Not converted." She scanned the papyrus. "Recent, this ... he had got as far as the fingering."

*Nice*, responded Christopher. *But ... *

"A moment's curiosity shall not delay us overmuch, Christopher."

The scholar sighed as she took up the lyre that leaned against the bed and tightened its strings. *Very well. How many verses has it?*

"Five", she mused. "with burthen. I believe the Sons of Eli will be more than satisfied with it." At last, she finished the tuning and hesitantly picked out the tune, tentatively singing the words:

Lord of all Creation's glory
(Turn your gaze upon us)
Author of Creation's story
(Turn your gaze upon us)
Lord of all since time begun
(Turn your gaze upon us)
Lord of Earth and moon and sun
(Turn your gaze upon us)

Here upon the altar seat
(Turn your gaze upon us)
Here your grace and glory meet
(Turn your gaze upon us)
Come in fire, come in flames
(Turn your gaze upon us)
Come, O Name above all names
(Turn your gaze upon us)

Bless us, Lord Eli above
(Turn your gaze upon us)
Bless us, Lord of light and love
(Turn your gaze upon us)
Bless us, guide us, Lord Eli
(Turn your gaze upon us)
From your throne beyond the sky
(Turn your gaze upon us)

When our flesh and soul shall part
(Turn your gaze upon us)
When shall still our beating heart
(Turn your gaze upon us)
Guide us to our home above
(Turn your gaze upon us)
In your land of light and love
(Turn your gaze upon us)

Turn your gaze upon us, Lord
(Turn your gaze upon us)
Turn your gaze upon us, Lord
(Turn your gaze upon us)
Turn your gaze upon us, Lord
(Turn your gaze upon us)

"The title, of course, is 'Turn Your Gaze Upon Us'", she noted wryly as she put aside the instrument. "One of his simpler melodies, as well."

*I didn't know you played, lady.*

"Oh, aye", she chuckled, "aye. 'Tis a useful skill for an acolyte, and even moreso around Wand'rer. He cannot write and play at the same time, so I ... " Her voice caught, and stumbled to a halt.


Silence. Raven's eyes lowered as she fought against the emotion that filled her ... nay, overflowed her, for she could feel it rising in tears.

*Raven, are you well?*

"I ... I am well", she replied at last. "I just ... for a moment, I ... "

*I know. I forget, sometimes, what has happened.*

Raven nodded, not trusting her voice in that moment. "He ... he wasn't too fond of the last verse. Question marks, all over. Blotted the margins, too."

Christopher wisely said nothing for several minutes, giving Raven time to gather her thoughts. At last, he 'said', *Perhaps we should ... *

" ... get back to work", she finished for him, her voice a little choked. "Aye. That's best."

A further digging through the debris field that was the floor of the room turned up two broken quill pens ... several torn sheets of papyrus, dark with blotting ... and, beneath a pile of open books, a terribly unmade bed, the rushes within it crackling with dryness.

*A mess, as I said*, noted Christopher, finally able to enter the room without paper crackling underpaw. *What are the books?*

"Hm", mused Raven, seating herself atop the stiff mattress.


"The first is nothing but family trees ... and none of them complete."

*Aye, those would be his.*

"His? Did he know nothing of his family?"

The bear seemed to shrug his massive shoulders. *There was little to tell, so he always said. Few relations left, little for succession, second son of a second son of a ... you see the point.*

"Aye, but the house of Calfherd?", she asked, amazed. "That was a noble house!"

*Aye*, Christopher replied, *and a fat lot of good it did him. His father, lady, was a wagonwright. His father's father, a chicken farmer. The noble house belongs to another branch entire.*

"No wonder he became a bard", she muttered. "Little else to do."

*'Sooth, he always said it was his mother's stepfather that led him to't.*

"A bard, then?"

*Nay. A fine man, though, and a teamster, with a love of music.*

"And her true father? There is nothing here beyond his name."

*'Twas all he had of him. Some fool soldier, ran off somewhere.*

"The things you learn", Raven mused.

*What's the next book, then?*

"It *should* be a journal ... but I don't believe he ever wrote in't."

*Aye, that sounds right. He wrote for pleasure, not business. And
the others?*

"These three", Raven replied with a smirk, "are overdue from Fox Cutter's stacks. One on the Ecclesia, for the commission ... one book of legends, most likely for amusement ... and one book on the history and legends of the Order." She smiled thinly. "I did wonder how he knew so much of the Order when he came."

*We are finished, then?*

"Aye", said Raven as she gathered the clothing that lay about the bed. "The clothing I'll leave to the laundress. All that remains else is the chest at the foot of the bed, and that I'll not open."

*Of course not."

As they left the room, Raven paused.

*What is it, lady?*

"Oh, Christopher ... "

*I know*, he said. *But 'tis not so final as it seems.*

For a long moment, Raven paused, there at the threshold. Without the clutter, the room looked cold ... empty. A fleeting grey-furred smile flashed through her memories. Was this all that was left?

"It feels", she said at last, "as though we were burying him."

*Not yet*, replied the scholar firmly. *Remind yourself that there is still hope.*

"Aye", she half-whispered. "Aye ... "

And the door closed.